Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vision


One man's telepathy is another man's acute perception of reality. Intuition is simply a way some brains work with  their genetic composition and developmental (environmental) circumstances. I have had a fair share of contact with intuitive minds. I do not believe that intuition or telepathy is an indicator of intervention by immortals. 


A joy of being an atheist or agnostic is being able to say simply, "I don't know." The religious feel the compulsion to explain everything inexplicable in terms of their various belief systems. For centuries, intuition was identified as devil-inspired or god-inspired by major religions. The distinction was most often made politically in favor of whomever was in power. Joan of Arc was both saint to the French and witch to the English. To a modern psychologist she may be seen as an intuitive paranoid schizophrenic. As a practical humanist, I do not have to know how vision works or why it exists in order to utilize its benefits in my practice. 

In humanist practice, vision is important. As a humanist, I see and accept the world as it is, based on my understanding of science, my own inner experience and my environment. I see the pain and dysfunction of existence all around me. I also see the joy and love. My vision of how things could be better, based in universal liberation and education of human beings, is my motivation for practice. By approaching my own life as a laboratory for the actualization of that vision, I experience joy and greater understanding of myself and my environment. 

Meditation is an important element of my own practice. I have found that a daily meditation of twenty minutes has strengthened my vision, in the sense of allowing me to better tap into my intuition when approaching circumstances as I encounter them. In other words, I am better equipped to quickly know what I really am about and how I really want to proceed in the context of my humanism. This is being in the now with increased perception and clarity of mind. I believe that all human beings can enhance their perception. It is not mystical. It is simply a matter of education, commitment and practice.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Humility

Nature cares nothing about insurance claims or zoning. Nature does not care at all. Nature is.

We are part of a natural world. Human beings are not demigods, immune from the basic facts of physics and chemistry. We can have acute awareness of our status in the world. The upside is that our frontal lobes enable us to understand something about the natural state in which we live. The downside is that our arrogance prevents us from learning to adapt with Nature instead of fighting against it. Much of this arrogance stems from religious speculation and indoctrination about the human being's semi-divine status.

The lessons of the last week here in the Eastern U.S. are clear. Look at a few slide shows on the Web about Hurricane Irene's aftermath. Reflect on your real personal power in face of the forces of Nature. Do not dismiss or deny your own vulnerability  to accident or circumstance in any moment. Let that in. Sit with it. Allow it to affect the way you see your own life and the lives of all beings around you. This practice, in my own experience, fosters a deep humility, which improves my appreciation of all life.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Direction

Where are you going? What is the direction of your life? These are questions I ask myself nearly daily as part of my practice. The most immediate answer is, "I am growing old and then I will die." This brings me to my senses and allows me to get serious about my day's direction.

So much of what motivates all of us is inconsequential. It is based in fear of wanting. The more we have, the more we fear losing it. Simplicity of living is the cure for this fear. The way to simplicity is hard. Maintaining simplicity in a materialistic and competitive society is even harder. 

I try to choose the way to peace and joy through love by living simply. Picking out this path requires quite a bit of vigilance, meditation and reflection. It is all too easy to be distracted when trying also to help others on their way. I understand why many people who practice lives of peace and love retire from urban life. 

It can be easy at times to create an illusion that all direction in my life comes from me. Life, however, is interactive. My body has its limitations. The Universe is a place of random events in time and space. My direction is an intention at best. My path is inevitably diverted around obstacles and through circumstances which are out of my control. 

I try to practice doing those activities each day which enable me to walk my path upright and able to keep my eyes on the goals of peace and joy through loving. This is the direction I would seek. Dealing with the details of life is eased by knowing I am on course and living my ideals, no matter what circumstances I encounter along the way. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Purpose


I woke this morning to the sanctimonious ramblings of a religious elder coming from my clock-radio. He was ruminating on human purpose. Speculations on some non-existent master plan of the Universe.  Of course, his species was at the center of this plan.


There is no apparent purpose to human existence other than its niche in a greater mundane ecology. And, it appears that the evolution of the frontal lobe and the prehensile thumb has really messed up that evolution to the possible extinction of life on the planet. If there is a great master plan, it looks like it may be geared to eventual self-destruction of this green planet at the hands of humankind before its sun goes into nova and obliterates its whole solar system.

Human beings create their purpose. Some create the purpose of evangelical domination of others. Some create the purpose of military massacre in the name of a cause or greed. Others create the purpose of doing good within their own environment. 

I am amused when someone says they feel they have no purpose after they retire or when their own children move away. "Are you blind and deaf?", I think. Actually Helen Keller proved that a blind and deaf person can have more generosity and perception than that. How can anyone with their health and any resources feel at a loss for a purpose in a world which still suffers from poverty, isolation and injustice? The passivity which is encouraged by organized religion and ineffectual government contributes to this lack of creativity of individual purpose. 

Purpose can be found every morning with some reflection and personal organization. There is someone lonely in your life. There is someone poor in your life. There is someone ill in your life. If not, get out of your life and onto the street with open eyes. There will be an endless source of purpose in front of you. Looking for some master plan or waiting for an invitation can be an excuse for not simply rolling up your sleeves. 


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Escapism


I watched "Eat, Pray, Love" (2010) on cable last evening as I prepared my supper. I am grateful to the producers of the film. They have provided more (unneeded) validation to me that the international bourgeoisie have grossly distorted ideas of ethics and morality.

In this film, Julia Roberts plays a middle-aged American who has set off on a healing tour of two continents after divorcing her husband, Billy Crudup. I have to say I know it was only a movie, but I think anyone who divorces Billy Crudup is missing something.  In the film, Julia's character eats in Rome, prays in India and finds love in Bali. Doesn't everybody?  

I believe Michele Bachmann could live this romance if she abandons fundamentalism and leaves her husband, the guy who is involved with the business of converting gay people into straight people. After all, this shallow spirituality of tourist ashrams and tourist mystics is consistent with the Disney civilization that Bachmann and her ilk advocate for America. Selfish materialism to finance international escapism.

A reader of this blog recently made a comment on a post which was succinctly stated: "Charity begins at home." While I prefer compassion to charity, I think the point applies to this vision of personal development, portrayed by the doe-eyed Ms. Roberts. In a world where people are struggling to survive and working like slaves for low wages in resorts, enlightenment doesn't come over fruity drinks in Bali. This film is not just escapism. It is a representation of how materialism and hedonism have infected the American psyche with a blindness to what it truly means to be a decent human being.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Control

My downstairs neighbor thinks I use too much water. She has informed me of this in a couple of emails.  I live in an old apartment building. Apparently, she pays attention to the sound of my water running through her apartment. When I wash dishes, she sometimes bangs her cabinets loudly in her kitchen below mine. She once informed me how many times I had turned on my kitchen taps in an hour. I was impressed with this scientific approach to her psychological issue. It did not seem to help her, since the frequency of my water usage is none of her business. 

Seeking to control the peaceful and private behavior of others is often a symptom of severe pain, in my opinion. The feeling of powerlessness that comes with disease is not unfamiliar to me. I have been severely ill in my life. Every noise and perceived intrusion was acutely painful and elicited an overblown reaction from me. My ability to control myself and my anger was tested to its limits. I hope those who knew me then think I succeeded in using my mind to temper the animal responses of my body. 

Those who are not mindful, however, are not engaged in the process of self-understanding and moderation in the moment. If my priorities in life are my desires and my needs over all else, I will inevitably try to control my environment to assure the uninterrupted provision of my wants and desires. If the environment and those in it do not comply with my narcissistic needs, I might become violent to others or to myself. This form of mental illness runs the spectrum from paranoid schizophrenia to simple modern narcissism. The paranoid schizophrenic may strike out at strangers on the street. The modern narcissist may cheat on his taxes or run a Madoff scheme. 

As an upstairs neighbor, I tread softly by conscious choice. I am always aware that my floor is my neighbor's ceiling. I clean the hallways of my building because I like clean hallways, and the building's owner seems neutral on the subject. I do use water. I will confess to liking cleanliness. I am bothered by my neighbor's pain at not being able to control my water use. I wish she was able to allow me to help her with this. So far my attempts to do so have seemed to make things worse. When absolute control is the goal, nothing else will satisfy. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Interfaith

Some leaders of the current Humanist movement in the U.S. are enthralled with interfaith activity as a means to assert the validity of humanist thought in the wider society. I would advise anyone who thinks this is a wise strategy to promote actual humanism should listen to this NPR piece from Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Humanism, unlike most religion, is a choice of individual behavior and ethics, based on a belief in human equality, environmental consciousness and nonviolence. Humanism is not about converting others, violence or mythology. Humanism is based in logic and science. Religion is based in suspension of logic (faith) and superstition. 

My humanist practice is not a faith. My humanist practice is a voluntary daily choice to be the best living creature I can be in the real world of other living creatures by utilizing mindfulness, education and science. While I do not care one iota if another human being applies religious beliefs to his/her life, I do not wish to base any relationship with another human being on religious faith. Apparently, as illustrated by the radio piece above, there are many who would try to force me to do so with physical or psychological violence. It would be a sad state of affairs if this insanity infected the modern Humanist movement and our civil society. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Courage

The popular image of courage in the U.S. is wrapped up with militaristic nationalism. Sentimentalism about men and women who train to kill in the name of "national defense" has become a popular media staple. When in doubt about your ratings, cover something to do with veterans or a war zone. 

The motivation for military service for many in the volunteer army is based in poor education, family dysfunction and generational poverty. Their motivation for joining the military is desperation, not courage or self-sacrifice. This is an old human story. Those in power shamelessly peddle military service and elevate it to altruism, when they are cynically exploiting the lower classes to fight for their security and profits. 

In my experience, it takes great courage to live a responsible and nonviolent life. To turn away from violence and hatred takes courage. To suffer the indignity heaped on the peaceful who stand up for nonviolence takes courage. To leave the world a better place for every human being without exploiting others takes courage. 

As a humanist, I take encouragement from the humble, those who lead simple lives of responsibility to themselves, their fellow human beings and their environment. These courageous people are not celebrities or war heroes. They staff convenience stores and retail stores. They pick crops and lay bricks. They bag groceries and wait on tables. They are truly the best of humankind. 


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Essence




What is the essence of your life? The answer to this question is difficult. It requires a form of self-understanding that few of us can manage in the moment. Perhaps those who know us best are more likely to tell us what the answer is.

Can we shape our essense, our very nature? I believe I can. In fact, I believe I must try in order to remain a vital and creative human being. This is the point of my practice. Choosing my path in the moment with eyes wide open is key to this process. This is mindfulness in action.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Walking

A psychological benefit of walking is lost when it is given up for driving or pedaling everywhere. Walking to a desired destination requires planning and persistence. It takes longer, therefore time must be managed as part of the process of walking to destinations. This changes the pace of life for those who are used to jumping into or onto a vehicle to get to places in a hurry. Walking forces me to look at my real human capabilities in time and space. It enhances my human perspective.

Walking from my own neighborhood through other neighborhoods to get to my destination acquaints me with my world. I find out who lives around me. I make eye-to-eye contact with a truly diverse group of people every time I walk to my destination. Opportunities to interact with my neighbors present themselves. Someone asks for directions. Another tells me that my hat has slipped out of my back pocket. Someone else asks me if I've seen a lost cat or dog.

Walking is immersion in my environment. Its health effects are obvious. Its benefit to air quality in the city is a given. It is a basic element of my practice.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Live in joy, in love, even among those who hate."
from Dhammapada, Teachings of the Buddha.

In a world of Facebook pages and Web-page animations with snappy adman lines, these words can be read like a bumper sticker. Cynicism, covered by apparent inanity, is a trend of the times.

Whenever I read these words, as I do intentionally and regularly, I am encouraged. I realize that my life, as a gay man, as an AIDS survivor and as a cancer survivor, has grown hopeful and creative by living these words. Love has healed hate, rejection and fear of death.

Living in love does not mean living without anger or hurt or frustration. Living in love entails shaping and working these natural feelings into a force for positive motivation and change in my own life. Love is not a sappy pop tune. Love is a force. It is stoked with the fires of all passion. If combined with mindfulness and compassion, love can change my environment by changing my function within it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Emptying

Those who meditate know the feeling. As the rhythmic pace of breath relaxes in meditation, the mind feels a freeing, an emptying of obsessive thoughts, of stress. It is quite wonderful.

Emptying my life of the unnecessary has been a major part of my practice in recent years. Just asking the question, "What is necessary or needed for my maintaining balance, peace and joy in my life?" is a helpful exercise which I do regularly. Breaking from the cycle of asking, "What do I want?" to the conscious habit of asking, "What do I need?" is helpful as a first step to finding the necessities of happiness.

We all need basic things. We need proper nutrition, good air, good water. Regular exercise and regular sexual release are also necessary for good health. Social relevance is a human need. We do not need to drive a car or live in a condominium. We choose lifestyles that may lead to wanting these things. There is a basic difference between what we need as thinking animals and what we desire or crave.

Mindfulness is the path to knowing what I need, not just what I want. My wants are often driven by fear or anger. My needs are driven by simply being human. Developing an inner and timely awareness of these differences saves me a lot of stress and aggravation.

The emptying of the mind which comes with meditation is very helpful to me in developing this awareness of need vs. want. I first experienced the tremendous relief this emptying of the mind can bring when I was in cancer treatments. On a day when I was rolled into a ball of pain, I forced myself to straighten out on my mattress as best I could. I began to breathe deeply and to chant a familiar Buddhist chant. Soon I was simply breathing deeply and rhythmically. My pain abated. My mind cleared. I knew I was doing what I needed to do, as opposed to wanting some magical release from my pain.

I have come to realize that a great deal of my psychic pain over the years was my own doing. By wanting to be someone or somewhere else, I was ignoring I really needed. I accumulated things and people in my life as remedies for my unmet needs. I did things I wanted to do without needing to do them. If I had spent more time emptying my mind and getting in touch with my real human needs, I would have had more happy moments.

Emptying brings that incredible lightness of being which feels like walking on air. It can be achieved without alcohol or drugs. For some, it takes more practice than for others. We all come to mindfulness with different burdens and aptitudes. Practice is practice. It is the practice of emptying the mind which pays off. Letting go of the inconsequential opens the mind to the consequential. It lights my way.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Irresponsibility

We are living in a time when the new Right, exemplified by Michele Bachmann and her Libertarian comrades, scream constantly about personal responsibility as a remedy for all the social and economic ills we suffer. Personal responsibility. How about their personal responsibility?

These same preachers of responsibility whine horribly whenever they are taken to account for their support for eight years of grossly irresponsible government under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. I mention both because the puppet must have his puppeteer. The familiar chant begins, "I didn't vote for George Bush, but I think it's time we stop blaming..." The lie here is obvious. If you hadn't voted for Bush, why would you even try to defend him?

Until politicians hold themselves responsible in concrete ways for their failures, the government will continue to roll out of control of reason. Government is not the problem; bad governance at the hands of irresponsible political aristocrats is the problem. I include President Obama in that class.

The truth is that we were ruined by eight years of radical Right Wing ideology. It divided the population. It renewed the North-South mistrust and lack of cooperation. It neglected major domestic issues while pursuing the interests of international business, especially petrochemical business. It allowed the largest swindle of the public on record by bankers and stock brokers.

By denying the responsibility for this failure to represent the best interests of the people, politicians bicker aimlessly and never address the root problems of governmental and political structure. This is a hollow show of representation without the actualization.

This same process occurs in individual and family lives. If I practice irresponsibility by denying fault or failure, I will continue to develop the habits of irresponsibility. The current culture, infected by the example of those in economic and political power in the media, reflects this widespread practice of denying culpability for the most venal mistakes and offenses. Public behavior, if observed closely, also reflects this trend to social irresponsibility. People push down urban sidewalks without concern for those with whom they share them. Cars and bicyclists harass pedestrians. Public speech is rude and unnecessarily loud.

The acknowledgment of personal imperfections with genuine humility is a first step to humanist practice, in my opinion. As long as I am honest, truly and often brutally honest by today's standards of denial, with myself, I cannot go far wrong when dealing with others. As long as I feed delusions about myself, I am liable to be irresponsible in my behaviors toward others.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nature

A sunny day in a park. The bee buzzes along thinking, "I pollinate and keep the world alive." The ant carries a crumb to his tunnel thinking, "I keep the world clean." The spider weaves her web thinking, "My thread and design bring me all I need to live." The human swats at a fly thinking, "I hate insects."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Technology

Once again techie hype has been dashed on the rocks of reality. After extensive research, I bought a moderately expensive Nook Color e-reader yesterday from Barnes & Noble. The turning point on my decision-making was watching a Youtube video by an allegedly independent tech review agency. The man on the video lauded the product I bought as a practical alternative to larger, heavier and more expensive tablets. I already own a desktop and notebook. I don't need another computer.

I soon felt like a schnook for buying the Nook. The set-up was reminiscent of the early days of MP3 players. Despite the bubbling explanations by the cheerleaders-turned-soccer-moms on the instructional videos, the results left a lot to be desired. I am a good follower of technical instructions. I did what I was told. The tablet itself seemed to work fairly well. The touch-screen was anemic in its responsiveness, but I was willing to accept that as a function of lower cost.

The first challenge came when I decided to use my public library's e-book catalog, as recommended by my salesperson. This feature was a clincher for me since I already use the library regularly. Signing up for the service entailed downloading new software from Adobe. The instructions were confusing. It took me a while to realize I now had to be a member at Adobe, a pricey club indeed. The whole process took longer than I would have expected. The downloaded e-books, I was assured, would be readable and transferable to my Nook through the Adobe program...ideally.

I eagerly searched the library's electronic catalog and was disappointed to find most of the fiction was of the bodice-ripper variety. I am a veteran feminist, but even this was a bit over the top for me. Nearly every book in the historical fiction section was about upwardly mobile women having affairs with male aristocrats.  I was almost relieved to find that I would be unable to download 99% of them. They were "on hold" with queues of five to a dozen people in front of me.

I managed to download a free book from Google Books. I even managed to get the Google Book onto the Adobe platform so I could easily transfer it to the Nook for reading. Apparently Adobe's program acts like a butler who hands you your coat on the way out from the PC to the Nook. The books do not reside in the Adobe program. It simply is there in the middle of the whole transaction. Presumably it hopes some day to get tips.

Now here is when the keel of the Good Ship Nook went careening onto the rocks of impracticality. I plugged in the USB connector which would theoretically allow me to transfer the book to my Nook to actually be read while I was lying in bed in the near future, I thought naively. Wrong! Windows did not recognize the USB device (the Nook), which, it claimed, had "malfunctioned". In other words, my PC told the Nook to buzz off. I tried again. Same answer. I tried a dozen more times in various sequences, resembling the initiation rites of a Masonic Temple. "Get lost," groaned Windows routinely. My gay-bar PTSD began to kick in, so I decided to go over to my notebook to see if it was an easier mark.

My notebook didn't like the Nook either. Would not recognize it under any circumstances. Windows 7 didn't like Nook any more than Windows XP SP3. Poor Nook. Poor me. Poor e-reader industry.

I was still not discouraged. I may be an old guy, but I struggled my way through DOS back in the day, despite my dyslexia and panic disorder. I'm no cyber-sissy. The fact that I have the nerve to publish this blog every day should be evidence to support that assertion.

I spent the next two hours reading message board after message board peopled by equally disgruntled Nook owners with the same issue. It wasn't torture. It was actually quite informative. It seems that others like me are determined to disbelieve that the makers and vendors of the Nook could possibly have pulled a fast one on us. It began to take on a Stockholm-syndrome dimension as I read on. The amount of determined inventiveness and wasting of time by these folks was staggering in comparison to my paltry several hours of frustration. 

By midnight, I had gotten to the bottom line. Nook and Windows have a problem which has nothing to do with me. Dismantled the Nook, wiped it and re-boxed it. Bye-bye, Nookie, bye-bye. 

So, what have I learned? Well, I now know that  Nook in the hand is not better than a shelf of real books. I am convinced that the form of competitive capitalism that produces these situations is not geared to improving the quality of life. It is geared to producing maximum profit at the expense of consumers like me. I see that the egos who master these technologies are more concerned about profits and intellectual property rights than they are about the hands-on quality of their products for consumers.

This road to hell was paved with obvious good intentions. I am sure there are those in the publishing industry who want to maintain a reading culture. I am sure there are those who understand the value of digitizing media environmentally and practically. I know that librarians are fully aware they must get digital to survive. However, without some concerted effort to produce a unified methodology for getting to a better place with digital books soon, unnecessary human resources and dollars will be wasted. Perhaps this is inevitable. All I know is that I will dust off my library card and put shoe to pavement to get my real books in the near future.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Security

The Transportation Security Administration of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security is now experimenting with a security interview system used in Israeli airports. The pilot program will be started at Boston's Logan International Airport. It entails interviews with every ticket holder. The interviews are meant to eliminate dangerous people from flights by the interviewers implementing nightclub-psychic techniques by which they can determine passenger motives in seconds. On the basis of these "chats" supposedly "free" Americans will be categorized and potentially prevented from boarding an aircraft, despite holding a ticket.

This is Orwell's 1984 actualized.

This new system of harassing travelers comes from a nation which practices religious apartheid with impunity due to the justified international guilt over historic antisemitism. This blatant intrusion into personal privacy is an outgrowth of American paranoia, amplified after 911 by its repressed guilt over two aggressive invasions of countries across the planet, Afghanistan and Iraq. I believe Americans reasonably expect to be targeted due to the violence their government has committed against hundreds of thousands of civilians in war zones. This is rational, but pathetic. The United States government, the most lethal military power in the world, has been reduced to fearfully interviewing every person getting on an aircraft in a major city with the agenda of doing this in every airport in the country.

The problem with our homeland's security is our homeland's dependence on violence to push its political and economic agenda on other nations at the expense of our nation's people. Americans pay an inordinate economic price for this governmental approach. Our economy is in ruins in large part due to the two wars which have brought us to this paranoid sacrifice of our privacy to pseudo-psychologists with badges. This brings Americans one step closer to sacrificing any hope of  true democracy in the U.S.. This is government intrusion, not government service.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Time

There is nothing more precious than time in a mortal existence. Nothing.

The span of a life is ultimately not negotiable. It is finite. Extending human life has become the preoccupation of the medical establishment. This has improved the general human condition, as more functional and skilled people, especially in the sciences, are able to expand and  transmit their knowledge for longer periods. Luddite resentment of the cost of health research and care is counterproductive to the progress of the human species and the maintenance of the viable human environment on Earth.

Learning to appreciate the preciousness of time was key to my development as a humanist. Looking at every human being I meet through the lens of our shared mortality melts away the trappings of gender, age, race and culture. I do not believe that "We are one." I do believe we all share the essential insecurity and pain of living a mortal existence. I believe that education and exploration through science are the remedies for that universally shared  insecurity and pain. Focusing on helping one another to transcend that insecurity and pain could be the key to peace and joy on this planet.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Spending

It is a sad state of affairs when the health of our nation's economy hinges on the consumerism of our over-leveraged middle class. Americans already carry more personal debt than their peers in any other developed nation. Our Federal Reserve wizards have enabled more borrowing by lowering interest rates for two years guaranteed. As I recall, borrowing on easy terms beyond means to repay is what has collapsed our economy. Perhaps Bernanke and fellows believe in homeopathy.

I state proudly that I am not an economist. Who helped to create this mess in the first place? I am simply a person who tries to live within his means despite many past challenges to do so. As I watch inebriated gangs, wearing new Red Sox T shirts, rumbling off to Fenway Park on the subway, I wonder how many of them charged their $100 tickets and their beers to credit card accounts that are carrying  whopping balances. How many of them are unemployed and collecting benefits from the government which it is fashionable to despise?

The entitlement of the undereducated looters in England was all to familiar too me. I see this entitlement daily on the faces of young people here in my city.  I do not see humility. I do not see moderation. I see wanting for more. This is the driving force of capitalism in a materialistic society. Wanting for more. When wanting for more merges with conformity, the avid capitalist is ecstatic. He cares nothing for the social consequences.

The most wasteful spending in a materialistic society is the spending of precious time to accumulate more. People work three jobs to satiate the grasping of their children, who are driven by their Facebook comrades. Lives are wasted at unsatisfactory jobs to enable a new generation's addiction to stuff. And, when those addicts cannot have their stuff, they melt down or become raging looters. Is this a way to a better future? 

I shut off my radio when I hear NPR air another story about the economy, told entirely from the perspective of materialistic capitalism. I listen with dark amusement when I hear the rantings of Republican presidential candidates in Iowa. They mix God and money shamelessly, while knocking human rights legislation and universal health care. They will be spending hundreds of millions in the name of God and selfish capitalism. They are articulating the madness of materialism, woven into a culture of narcissism.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Possessions

I look at two small boxes of Buddhist books. I have carried these around with me for twenty five years. The boxes are old wine crates from the trash, crudely converted into mini-bookcases. Discarded wine crates were nicer twenty-five years ago. They have worn charm.

The books are what concern me now. Decomposing pages of compositions of the Japanese Buddha, according to some. Nichiren Daishonin's journals in five volumes were important to my mind's evolution back in the day. They no longer have the same punch for me. As much as I appreciate the words, those pages are dripping with the religion and manners of medieval Japan. Good for diversion, bad for focusing on the now.

There are a handful of mini-books, which I have not yet passed out to friend or acquaintance. Those are easily disposed of:  I Ching, Tao Teh Ching, Chuang Tsu, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Krishnamurti Meditations and Giono's The Man Who Planted Trees. They all look fresh, despite being opened regularly by me.The pocket editions of The Upanishads and The Bhagavad Gita are appropriately yellowed and broken in. Thich Nhat Hanh's Old Path White Clouds sits atop The Threefold Lotus Sutra. And, there is my sentimental favorite, Buddhism for Sheep by Chris Riddell and Louise Howard.

I look at the cases frequently. They look back defiantly. "You know you can't throw us away, " I hear them say. But they are wrong. I can free myself of them, and may do so soon. Soon. What a situation to be in! Weighed down by the possessions which have fueled my quest for detachment. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Retrofitting

Today I will be installing devices for carbon monoxide detection and smoke detection in preparation for selling a home. I am required by local and state law to install eight (8) devices in a seven-room house. I am feeling a little Libertarian about this. I am shocked to admit this to myself. However, I know that the Libertarian approach is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

We live in a wealthy country where we allow poverty to drive people into sleeping on our streets. The illiteracy rate in our public schools has been rising, not falling. Drop-out rates are also staggering. The uneducated demonstrate against universal health care, a government program which could make their lives and their country healthier. But our houses are crammed with plastic disks which annoyingly malfunction when we boil pasta. 

Retrofitting is the antithesis of practical planning. It is symptomatic of reactionary thinking. Reactionary thinking is symptomatic of the lack of science in our social and political systems. 

When I hear the term "nanny society" applied to the U.S., I laugh. If this is a society which acts as a nanny, it acts as a demented nanny. Rather than focusing on disease prevention and disaster prevention, our government bumbles along with poor crisis intervention. Bandaids and splints are applied to problems as they arise in the media consciousness. The worse the problem, the bigger and less effective the splint. Obamacare is an example. 

Moving from a retrofitting consciousness to a proactive consciousness requires solid public education in a society. Until the U.S. adequately funds and improves its public education system, its effectiveness as a force for progress in the world will continue to decline. A well-educated populace is the best guardian of freedom. Planning and prevention are the most effective ways to achieve progress. The current foundering of the U.S. economy and its politics are symptomatic, I believe, of the American population's declining intelligence. Retrofitting that will be a massive undertaking.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Eden

Interior of Iroquois Long House
A benighted group of religious fanatics are searching for the true Eden of the Bible. I cannot imagine what this would serve, but I do not suffer from that particular brand of insanity. Those who cannot stop obsessing on a preposterously perfect heterosexual world of one necessarily monogamous couple are still working out childhood trauma in my opinion.

I have been rereading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. It can be read for free on line, despite attempts by publishers to prevent this. The book is required reading for any resident of the United States who wants to be mindful of the broader truth of the formation of the country.

Zinn's research on native cultures in the Americas should satisfy the avid Eden-seeker, with the possible exception of the Eurocentric Mormon. The Eden of the undiscovered Americas was widely peopled by communal folks who were progressing into nonviolent, agrarian societies, grounded in deep ecological traditions and practical awareness. The snake in the tree of this Eden was a composite of European explorers, who raped and pillaged this Eden into the shape of Roman Catholic, diseased and warring Europe.

I suggest the Eden seekers put away their archaeological tools and simply practice their passion. I suggest they strip down and get earthy. I suggest they curl up together in a large group inside a long house or a wigwam. Rather than trying to look for the external Eden, I suggest they look for the lost Eden within their own bodies and minds. If they can get there, they may discover healing love, peace and liberation.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Peace

I often confuse my own sense of peace with being satiated. It's an animal thing. It is easy to confuse that wonderful glow and fullness after an exquisite meal with peace. The same applies to sexual gratification or the successful completion of a project. However, this is not peace. It is satisfaction. 

Peace is a well which lies deep in the depths of being. Its waters are temperate and still. Its surface is calm. Its refreshing waters can be drawn upon in hunger as well as in fullness.

Finding your peace is a worthy occupation. It comes with practice, especially practice under duress. Personal peace can be found by pulling away from trauma or stress into meditation and healthy occupations, like reading inspirational works, exercise, seeking out good company. I consider tending to and fostering my personal peace my responsibility as a humanist who believes in nonviolence and contributing to progress in my environment.

Peace isn't just about feeling well. Peace is about being at one with my own mind and body in the moment. Peace is about acceptance. Peace is about stillness. Peace is about love.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Riots

For some time now London has been rivaling Manhattan as the epicenter of international wealth and high living. The wealth hoarders of the world have used the city as a playground. Expensive hotels, chic shops and an elegant cafe society. In my own city, Boston, the Back Bay has become a small version of this high-priced oasis for wealthy internationals. 

The spark of resentment against the disproportionate distribution of wealth in a society which preaches materialism through its media has been lit in London. And the British government is obviously at a loss. Reports of small bands of police helplessly watching shop rows being looted by armies of thugs in ninja gear.

While criminals seem to be behind the looting, the anger which has fired this outbreak of lawlessness is not criminal in the least. It is predictable and purely human. When law only represents the privileged, when law allows men in business suits to steal the common wealth and flaunt their theft, anger and acting out of anger are eventually predictable and inevitable. 

The neglected responsibility of government fuels these situations. The Libertarians in the U.S. could learn an important lesson. Free markets are driven by greed, selfishness and aggression if unchecked by enforced regulation by government. Economic justice, like racial justice or justice for GLBT people, will not emerge in a society without a government which takes an enlightened interest in the common welfare. This is a crucial role of government in the life of a society. And, in Britain, as in America, the government has abandoned the common welfare to appease the wealthy who pay for elections and keep politicians ensconced in their jobs. 

Riots will lead to repression inevitably. Repression will lead to more anger, which will inevitably find its own course, like dammed water. It will spill into the society in any number of ways. Squashed protest becomes violence. Violence begets more instability. The net result is a deep loss of potential progress for everyone in society, including the wealthy. In an overpopulated, densely urbanized world with diminishing resources and degrading environment, lack of mindful governmental management and no application of social justice will lead to disaster.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Genetics

As a gay man of an earlier generation, I have always had a different take on Family Pride. I am intrigued by the approach many parents take to genetics. Their consuming pride in genealogy when they find themselves connected to an aristocrat is undiminished when they also deal with devastating genetic diseases, which may well have come to them from their aristocratic forebears. They are less prone to accept full responsibility for passing these diseases on to their children.

This conflicted approach to genetics could be laughed off as just another human frailty. However, it has implications for the species and the planet. The conflicted attitudes toward genetics interferes with scientific research, as we have seen in the stem cell debate. A pro-life, anti-science, hyper-religious farmer who decries embryonic cell research and family planning will readily plant genetically modified crops and happily play with the genetics of other species of animals for profit or pastime. 

The acceptance of our existence as simply animals with evolved brains is hard for many people, even highly educated people. Having offspring appears to make this acceptance even harder. Natural programming causes parents to see their children as far more than their genetic maps. Children often see parents, upon whom they have depended for survival, as immune from responsibility for their own physical or mental problems, passed on genetically. The objective reality that full genetic responsibility begins with conception is too frightening or too hard to comprehend for many who choose to procreate or accidentally procreate. The drive to procreate trumps the intelligent assessment of risk or benefit. 

The simple scientific fact remains that we are genetically, not magically, formed from an egg, fertilized by a sperm. The combined genetic material in those two cells determines our genetic makeups. The contributors of egg and sperm are fully responsible for the genetic result, which spans a lifetime of another human being in human society. I believe all human beings should be taught this fact and its many implications as part of thorough sex education from an early age. Sex education should be a basic human right and a basic parental responsibility.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Prayer

I used to pray a lot when I was a child. I had a personal Jesus. He was that tall, handsome and nice guy who did not resemble any of my heterosexual male relatives. He had time to listen and to look at the things in my life which were making me miserable. He smiled encouragingly without a word. He bathed me in sympathetic light, which held me like a yearned-for male embrace. He was my beautiful imaginary friend.

When I opened my mind and heart to the real world as an adolescent, I found many men and women who were like my imaginary friend. They too had been bumped around by life. They offered real embraces, real warmth. Some also offered sexual delights with the affection I craved. A vast improvement over my well-meaning imaginary Jesus.

I learned that prayer to an imaginary friend was a symptom of insecurity which could be addressed in the actual world with some effort and humility. Eventually my prayers became communications from my gut to my better self, that part of my mind which could address the needs of whatever was prompting my call for help. "Jesus, please help me get through this." became "Paul, what can you do to make this situation more manageable?" I learned that sitting down with a pencil and making a list of possible approaches was more beneficial than wringing my hands and looking skyward.

When someone tries to convince me to pray or to embrace Jesus, I certainly do not begrudge them their immaturity. I know that growing up is an individual journey, one that some people travel more slowly and grudgingly than others. In fact, I have known many people who were still hoping for some magical salvation on their deathbeds after decades of praying for it with no result. Praying to win the lottery is not a practical way of enriching a life.

When I hear reports of the Governor of Texas holding a massive prayer rally as a prelude to his run for the White House, my better self tells me to take his possible Presidency into account in my future planning. Rather than joining him in asking his imaginary friend to decide my fate, I will be deciding whether I want to live in a nation led by religious zealots, a Christian Iran.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Socialism

Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps
During the last decade, we have witnessed the loudest and perhaps most uninformed campaign against socialism in the U.S. since the Communist-scare orgy of  Roman Catholic, Republican, closeted-homosexual Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s. Tea Party loudspeakers, like Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, spew demonizing invective about the evils of socialism. Their aversion to socialism seems unimpeded by education or understanding.

In the current hard times, which I believe are about to get significantly harder for more Americans, it may serve American voters well to open a book and read about the successful worldwide applications of socialist ideology. I hold little hope this will actually happen in a country hypnotized by flat screens in all sizes.

One of the best socialist programs of the Great Depression was the Civilian Conservation Corps (1933-1942), which provided housing, employment and skill-training for 2.5 million American men between the ages of 18 and 25. While it was unfortunately a male-only and racially segregated program, it did have 200,000 African-American enrollees with African-American administrators in a segregated part of the program which provided equal pay and benefits for its members. This was advanced social policy for the time.

The CCC mobilized, housed and trained its members to do land management, including forestry, fire control, flood control and erosion control. Unlike the industrial push of other socialist-inspired government agencies, CCC's focus was on America's heartland and its rural populations. National parks, dam projects and levee projects were part of the CCC's work which vastly improved rural infrastructure across the U.S., while providing food, housing and employment for citizens who would have been homeless and indigent.

The concept of the CCC would offend the Libertarian, who would see it as unfair competition for those corporate interests who would like to exploit labor and exploit public resources which belong to the people. The current Tea-Party Libertarians, like Bachmann and Rand Paul, would rather see unemployed 18-25-year-olds in the inner city wield automatic weapons in the drug trade than wield shovels for the good of the country. All in the name of some hollow narcissistic ideology of "personal freedom".

As Americans have turned their backs on national isolationism, many have turned to this new personal isolationism, embodied in Tea-Party rhetoric: "Build it yourself! Run it yourself! Take the profits for yourself! Society be damned! Don't ask me for taxes! Don't expect me to pay for schools, hospitals or elder care!"

Well, as a fan of democratically applied socialism, I say to the Tea Party folks, "Good luck." I am old enough to know that Tea Party supporters will eventually get old and sick. I am old enough to know the randomness of reversals of fortunes in life. I also know that I would not be alive today without social programs and the funding of science by government.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Practice

"Suppose a goldsmith takes his tongs and puts some gold into the furnace to melt it. If he blows on the heat too much, it will get too hot, but if he sprinkles too much water, it will cool down. If he constantly takes it out and looks at it, it will not reach refinement. But if he does all these things from time to time, aware of the nature of gold, it will become easily molded and bright. In the same way, there are three qualities that a practitioner should pay attention to--concentration, determination, and equanimity. If he pays the right attention to these at the right time, then his mind will become like gold, pliant and brilliant and pure." from Anguttara Nikaya, a collection of Buddhist teachings. 

I thought this quotation would be appropriate as the stockbrokers panic over the Double Dip. 

Practice is grounded in balance. Practice is living in change and actively becoming reborn through change. By attending to practice above all, I avoid being swept away by the tides of trends and crises. I know my way to my end. I am determined to walk the path, free from unnecessary burden and suffering. Materialism holds no attraction for me. It is a distraction from my path. Anger and violence have no hold on me. They are distractions from my path. Peace and love light my way and lighten my step. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Progress

It is often discouraging to be a progressive. Most human beings are resistant to change. With age, most human beings become even more resistant to change. Older people hold the money and power in most societies. 

Progressive agendas in the U.S. are now impeded by a media empire, owned by Rupert Murdoch, which has pandered to the lowest instincts of the least educated and most materialistic. This media empire, in collusion with the likes of the Koch brothers of Texas, has spawned the Tea Party. Progressives, when faced with this kind of Fascist onslaught, have historically compromised and retreated. Some see President Obama doing just this in the recent budgetary wars. 

So, what has been the method of true progress in the human condition? Revolution. Those in power entrench. Wealth dominates. The people living under unbearable conditions rise up. This pattern has repeated nauseatingly throughout human history.

As a humanist and a progressive, I see this old cycle continuing in the current political trends in the U.S.. Entrenched wealthy interests are pushing for more power through the Tea Party radicals. Romney and Gingrich chime in to give 'respectable' Republicans cover, while they secretly cheer on the 'no-government' screams of Tea Party fringe. 

Money has changed the face of democracy. It has become the democracy of those with money. The rest of us are expected to choose between candidates who are pre-selected for us by financiers of gigantic media campaigns.  It is a sport for show, played between those who are determined to remain wealthy at the expense of others by not paying taxes, by cutting wages and by decimating the labor forces with job exportation and technology.

Simply saying "Why can't we all get along?" is not the way to progressive change. Courting those who would deprive people of human rights or economic justice is not the way to progressive change. Progressive change requires loud and vocal protest against those who wish to bully with their money and influence. President Obama's wan attempts at shaming corporate-jet owners fell very short of the rhetoric needed to actually implement a progressive agenda. Perhaps that is part of why we are where we are. President Obama has perhaps too much invested in the status quo himself.

As a humanist and a progressive, I abhor the idea of bloody conflict over politics. However, I equally abhor the apathy that is more likely to get human beings to that point in the future. A comfortable middle class without a conscience is the enemy of human progress. Religion which preaches materialism or masochism to the poor is the enemy of progress. Media professionals who sell their journalistic standards for job security are enemies of progress. 

Maintaining my humanist practice and supporting those causes which promote progress in universal human rights and economic justice are ways in which I keep my progressive consciousness alive. Waking others out of their apathy is another way I contribute to that progressive consciousness. Convincing those who are comfortable that it is not OK to abandon those who are not is essential to any progressive movement. 

I have been consistently disappointed in those who claim to be progressives in national politics for the last twenty years. The elevation of Ronald Reagan to sainthood by those on the Right and the Left sickens. I lived as a progressive in the trenches of human services during the Reagan years. I saw the destruction of human services during that period. This was the beginning of the dismantling of the Great Society vision of the 1960s. This process of reversing progress for universal rights and justice always begins by targeting the poorest and most disenfranchised. Blaming the victims of injustice to avoid the cost of elevating their life condition is a time-honored method of reversing progressive political change.

I believe it is time for those who support progressive causes to put pressure on those in politics to deliver on their promises. There is an election cycle in 2012 which will determine the future of progressive causes for decades to come. Right now those prospects look rather grim. A Tea Party Congress will prevent any progressive change, even if Obama is elected for a second term. This battle can be waged through a political process, but eventually the people subjected to downsizing and unemployment will have their say one way or another. If the social security network is destroyed, as the Tea Party wishes, there will be one time-tested way for those people to react.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Perspective

True compassion demands stepping out of my perspective and trying to understand the perceptions of others from their own perspectives. As I hear the current debates about the National Deficit in the U.S., I do not hear compassion. I hear the ongoing narcissism of the wealthy and inhumane.

Our politicians live luxurious lives. They fly nationally and internationally without being hassled at airport check points. They stay in nice hotels. They are wined and dined by special interests. Yet they whine about long hours and the hard work of legislation. They are not even doing a good job at that.

When the world is your playground, it is hard to be compassionate. The wealthy normalize their lives to rationalize their selfishness and greed. They publicize their diseases and divorces. They melodramatically act out their losses in front of cameras. They create personal myths to justify their privilege.

The perspective of the poor is much different. The world is not a playground for the poor. The world is a coal mine or a trash collection truck. The world is a daily awakening to a growling stomach and panic over what to do to avoid worse suffering. There is no easy access to help of any kind when you are poor. The myth of the American welfare state is a cynical political ploy, not a reality.

I have been poor. I have been comfortable financially.  I have not been affluent. The glimpses I have had of the affluent have not improved my opinion of them. Wealth breeds narcissism and selfishness. It is unavoidable in a world where affluence is power over others. It is unavoidable in a world which is economically unjust. 

As a practicing humanist, I am constantly examining my perspective as it is influenced by my environment, which includes my socioeconomic environment. Rather than practicing check-writing charity, the self-absolution of the wealthy, I try to practice compassion with personal action. Rather than donning a T-shirt and marching for money in a corporately managed walk for a cause, I maintain my readiness to act in any given moment mindfully, compassionately and generously with strangers as well as loved ones. This is not easy. It requires constant practice and effort. If I were rich, I suppose I might hire someone to do it for me. That would not be the same practice. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Technology

As I use technology to transmit my reflections on my daily practice as a humanist, I realize it would be very easy for me to confuse the transmission with the reality of practice. One of my favorite sayings is, "Those who can't do teach." I have tried to avoid being a subject of that saying throughout my professional and private life. 

My broadband cable provider is sending a technician here this morning to attend to some glitches with my modem. This caused me to reflect on the complexity of the technology required for me to transmit rather simple ideas over an Internet which is open to millions across the planet. It inspires awe to think of the power of the messages of Gautama or Socrates, whose words still impact civilizations across the centuries. 

What would the state of communication of ideas be today if our technological infrastructure were to collapse? Would groups of serious communicators convene to compensate for the loss? Would tweeters become speakers? Could what is written at the keyboard withstand the immediate questioning of and discussion by interactive human beings? I ask myself these questions often as I write this blog.

For those who have done book tours or speaking junkets, the answer is probably "Yes". However for the thousands of us who are expressing our ideas from lives which are more removed from academia and professional publishing, technology provides an opportunity to think aloud and garner comments from those who hear our thoughts, as we live our every-day lives. This is a wonderful liberation of thought from established media, as long as the modem works.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Detectives

Rufus Sewell as Zen
I watched the third and final episode of the new PBS Masterpiece presentation, Zen, last evening. I think it was a top-quality production of an excellently written teleplay adaptation. I recommend it.

My father and my uncle were police detectives. I was raised in an atmosphere of analysis of everyday events and human behaviors. Nothing is as simple as it seems under the detective's examination. Unfortunately, in the case of my father and uncle, their detective skills were never applied to their own psychological make-ups.

I have tried to learn from their mistakes and my own. I cannot help analyzing my environment and the behavior of those in it. It appears to be hard-wired in my personality. However, I try to analyze my own filters over those observations. Understanding those filters is a crucial part of the detecting process. 

Scientists are detectives by nature. Another PBS show, History Detectives, illustrates this point. Detecting is not predicting or proving a foregone conclusion. Like science, detecting involves hypotheses and gathering experimental data to reach a theory or solution. 

Humanists are committed to a scientific view of reality. Rather than accepting dogma which explains the why and how of existence, we are committed to explore our own existence with a scientific consciousness. This is a challenging way to live. There is never a totally sure thing in the scientific or detective mind. And, in the humanist's mind, there is always the next question, leading the way to the next exploration of what life is all about. 

Personal practice is the exercise that builds scientific muscle. By using my own life as a laboratory, I am maintaining the tools to stay open-eyed and inquisitive about life and my environment. Sleuthing my own personal truth and the workings of my reality is much more interesting than following any rote dogma of religion.